Honest assessment of 49ers quarterback situation

No organization in the NFL does quarterback controversies like the San Francisco 49ers.

“My entire career I’ve had quarterback controversy,” said four-time Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle when asked about the position during a recent interview.

Questions about the position continue to linger over the organization despite reaching a Super Bowl and consecutive NFC championship game appearances.

When the open tampering period of NFL free agency opened Monday morning the 49ers wasted little time adding another quarterback, Sam Darnold.

Darnold’s signing is all about two things: insurance, and competition.


Signing Darnold is a smart move considering Kyle Shanahan has been forced to use at least three quarterbacks during four of his first six seasons with the 49ers.

Last season saw the 49ers go through four quarterbacks. Trey Lance started the season but lasted just five quarters before being lost for the year. Jimmy Garoppolo replaced Lance in the starting lineup, making ten starts before an injury against Miami knocked him out. Brock Purdy then stepped in, and led the 49ers to the NFC championship game before suffering a torn UCL in his throwing elbow just six plays in. Josh Johnson took over and was knocked out of the game with a concussion shortly after halftime.

Lance has undergone a pair of surgeries on his ankle since suffering a fracture and ligament disruption against Seattle in September. He recently began throwing, and all signs point to him being cleared to join the team when on field workouts begin in May.

For Lance, injuries have taken away playing time that was vital to his growth. San Francisco general manager John Lynch discussed this when speaking at the combine in early March.

“He just needs to play. You need to be out there,” said Lynch. “So often in our league injuries stand in the way of a player improving. It’s hard. You just start to conquer things so you can mov on to the next thing and boom there’s a setback.”

Purdy’s timeline to return is much less clear after undergoing what his surgeon, Dr. Keith Meister, deemed as successful surgery on March 10. Purdy is expected to begin a throwing program in approximately three months. The quarterback will be working closely with the 49ers medical staff in Santa Clara throughout the recovery process.

As a result, Darnold is the only quarterback under contract with San Francisco who is fully healthy right now.


Having competition throughout the roster isn’t new for the 49ers.

“Competition’s a great thing,” said Lynch during an interview on the 49ers Talk podcast with Matt Maiocco from the scouting combine. “It brings out the best in everybody. We will always have a competitive environment.”

Prior to Purdy’s injury in Philadelphia and subsequent surgery, it was clear San Francisco he and Lance would be in competition to become the starting quarterback in 2023.

During separate interviews on media row during Super Bowl week, both quarterbacks talked about looking forward to the opportunity to compete.

With Purdy’s timeline to return unclear, Lance’s competition will instead come from Darnold.

Darnold gives the 49ers three young quarterbacks. Two of whom were the third overall in their draft class. The third just missed out on being name Rookie of the Year. The three count for a total combined cap hit of just over $14 million for this season. Peanuts compared to what most teams are paying.

The similarities between Lance and Darnold goes beyond their draft slot. Turn on the film and there are several plays where each show their potential. There are also plenty which show their lack of consistency.

Darnold spent his first five NFL seasons playing for four different head coaches and five separate offensive coordinators. Now he will have the opportunity to try and unlock that potential under one of the top play callers in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Lance will finally have the opportunity to work with Christian McCaffrey. The running back seemed to help unlock San Francisco’s offense following an October trade from Carolina.

Another wrinkle in all of this is the possibility of Purdy returning ahead of schedule. It’s not impossible for Purdy be back on the field in time for most of training camp.

Former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens underwent the same internal brace procedure Purdy went through in 2020. He was cleared to return just five months later. In this scenario, Purdy would be available around the second week of August.

If all three are healthy, training camp will be a sight to behold.

Considering the age and contracts of Purdy, Lance and Darnold there is nothing holding the 49ers back from rolling the balls out and letting the best man win.

In fact, it should be expected.

This article has 36 Comments

  1. Them honest assessment is besides the sample of what we have seen with Brock Purdy – we really don’t know what we have at QB.

  2. Jack,
    Are there enough reps in training camp for there to be a real competition, between 3 QBs ? If they split the reps evenly during camp wouldn’t that cheat the eventual starter out of the reps needed to fully prepare for the regular season? I asked this question in your last post but you may not get back to it so I will ask it here. In your evaluation of next years comp picks you don’t mention Jimmy G, will the 49ers receive a comp pick for JG?

    1. Coach,

      During the 2 camps I’ve covered snaps the 1’s and 2’s have gotten 4 reps per while the 3’s have gotten 2 reps per.

      The only time the amount of reps changes is during move the ball periods. The number of reps there depends on how well they do.

          1. That’s how comp picks are awarded. By the number of free agents that are lost!!

          2. That is incorrect. Based on JG’s average annual salary and his playing time will determine how much compensation the 49ers get. If they signed a FA QB at the same dollar value as JG (3 years, $73 million), they would receive nothing but they didn’t and it is most likely the 49ers will receive a 3rd round comp pick for him. BTW, the 49ers are holding a master class in receiving comp picks in the NFL. For the 2023 draft, they will receive EIGHT comp picks, (3rd round, 3; 5th round, 3; 6th round, 1; 7th round, 2).

        1. Old Coach,

          The addition of Hargrave cancels out the loss of Garoppolo on the comp pick chart.

  3. I have every faith that Purdy will be fully recovered and ready to play in September. I also think Trey Lance will have advance his level of play this offseason. Heck…I even think Sam Darnold will look much better in Shanahan’s offense with plenty of playmakers around him.

    I think it will likely be 1. Purdy, 2. Lance, and 3. Darnold. I don’t think Sam Darnold will be that far out of the backup spot.

    1. I would agree with your assessment. There’s no question that Purdy has demonstrated the best skills so far of the 3. To beat him out, Lance will have to show he’s better than Purdy. Cam he do that in training camp? I doubt that.

  4. 1. Purdy likely ain’t coming back by the start of the season. He might be able to throw by then but he won’t have practiced in training camp or thrown in preseason. And that’s IF he has no setbacks or complications in his recovery. Purdy ain’t coming back and ready to play until October MINIMUM.

    2. What has Lance done to unquestionably secure the QB1 position? He’s played all of what 4-5 games? He played one sloppy mud game and a handful of snaps in a second game last season? Lance knows the offensive system (hopefully Shanahan taught him more than to just run the ball up the middle). He also has a history of taking care of the ball better than Darnold. But he hasn’t actually had the opportunity to play NFL football and gain experience. I don’t think the Niners want to go through growing pains. I think they want to hit the ground running with whomever gives them the best chance from the get go.

    3. Darnold has experience and is there to both support and challenge Lance. He’s started a bunch of games in the NFL. His last 5-6 games; Darnold played decently. If Darnold beats out Lance (which isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination) then he’s starting. It’s that simple.

    4. Shanahan will play the hot hand. If the 49ers are rolling; then Shanahan isn’t going to change the QB just because Purdy can throw the ball and might have shaken off the rust. I fairly certain that Purdy will work his way back on the field and get some starts. But I don’t guarantee his return. Most likely it’ll take another injury or poor play by Darnold or Lance.

      1. Oh lord. Can fans not be such simpletons and believe we’re all team Trey or team Purdy or team Darnold or team Kaepernick or team Garoppolo…or whatever the idiot fan attachment is going on. Jesus…some of us enjoy the ability to objectively reason. Personally, I couldn’t careless who starts as long as it’s the best choice.

        In all likelihood Lance will start. He has the most experience in the system. All I said is that Darnold has actual NFL game experience….and experience means a lot. So it’s quite possible that Darnold ends up starting.

  5. I haven’t got a reliable ‘stat’ page up here, so I’ll ask the blog…which of the three Niner QB’s has the highest % of passes blocked at the LOS ? ..It seems to me that it would be Lance, but that’s why I’m asking you guys (the experts). Steve Mira probably had the strongest QB arm, but he threw lazers versus the catchable passes of Montana or Spurrier…Help….

    1. Mike
      The answer to your question should be obvious?
      How many games has Lance played in? (8 games in his career).
      How many games has Purdy played in? (9 games including relieving injured JG against KC and Miami).
      HINT: How many YEARS has JG played? Including the Patriots (2014 thru 2022) he’s played in 74 games! (63 games with the 9ers)!
      A QB has to play in games to generate “STATS!”

      1. Geep
        Sorry for picking St.Patricks Day to ask the question….I should not be competing with Guiness for an answer….Which of the THREE Niner QB’s As Niner QB’s, ( I should have been more specific) You picked that up, but in that Darnold hasn’t thrown a pass in a Niner uniform yet, I was referring to between Purdy and Lance.

        Old Coach…You’re right…I Mea Culpa…I have made that mistake before….

    2. Steve Mira? The 9ers had a QB, backup to John Brodie, named George Mira during the mid 60’s…

  6. Surprised to see Sam Darnold is only 25 years old. Shoot, he can stay on his parents insurance. That’s a lot of experience at that young age. The QB position group looks very promising but it’s irrelevant if the 49ers don’t fix their O-line. So far this offseason the 49ers have lost their long term starter at RT, their most versatile lineman in Brunskil, and they resigned arguably their worst o-lineman. Looking at those facts, Sam Darnold’s parents may want to opt for the cadillac insurance plan.

  7. My two cents:

    -Purdy won’t be able to start for reasons given above by allforfun. So it will be Lance or Darnold, unless of course they manage to snag Jackson, which I doubt but who really knows?

    -My supposition is that if Darnold can master the playbook in time for TC, he’ll start due to the experience differential. I suspect they hope that will happen and that Griese will be working with Darnold in overdrive. Let’s be real: If he came out in the same draft as Trey, they would have picked him. As an aside, imo they made a big mistake investing so much in such an inexperienced college player. I wanted Fields but presumed they knew what they were doing. Now it seems pretty obvious they were caught up in the pre-draft hype.

    -I also agree with allforfun that Shanahan will remain with the hot hand. So if it’s Darnold, Purdy will have a shot to get back in if Darnold stumbles or gets hurt. Two things I love about Purdy are his field awareness and accuracy. I don’t know how Darnold rates in those departments. I’ve read he’s accurate, but we’ll see. But if he’s close to Purdy in those traits, I think he’ll be starting for us for a very long time with Purdy backing him up for the rest of his contract.

    1. My 2 cents.
      Purdy will most likely be ready and will start the season. My understanding is that he is essentially healed after 3 months and is full go on building up strength in the arm after that. Nothings guaranteed but the odds are in his favor. Most likely he’ll be the starter to begin the season. So far he’s the only one of the 3 that has proven himself in actual games.

      Darold could possibly beat out Lance but I think it’s a long shot. They are going to give Lance every opportunity to succeed. If the 2 are roughly equal coming out of TC I think they will go with Lance. Yes Darold has a lot of experience but so far that experience hasn’t gotten him anywhere.

    2. I have always appreciated George’s mature sapience. He is spot-on about Darnold. I watched Sam at the dais this week, He sounds and looks like, a starter. He thinks he can and will start. He is a very good signing.
      It is no secret that the Niners would trade Trey for the right price. Quietly, they are skeptical that he was what they thought they drafted. They want Purdy to start but he likely cannot until the fall.

      Look for Sam’s experience to start unless trey looks much better than he has so far.
      If Purdy turns out to be the miracle franchise QB, it will cover up the enormous and inexplicable mistake of giving 3 first-rounders for an inexperienced QB playing in the Bush Leagues.

      1. “If Purdy turns out to be the miracle franchise QB, it will cover up the enormous and inexplicable mistake of giving 3 first-rounders for an inexperienced QB playing in the Bush Leagues.”
        Ha, funny Allie!

      2. I disagree with you allie. Trey is a complete unknown. And it would be criminal incompetence to get rid of him without finding out who and what he is. Your buying into the media narrative of those who are not local. Local media has a better feel for what goes on in Santa Clara.
        Your infatuated with Brocks rags to riches story……and thats fine. I like brock too.
        But chew on this……brock and Jimmy G are so similar its creepy. I couldn’t believe the similarity in stats , the eye test screams brock…..but the stats are the stats……and there almost the same!
        JG took the league by storm…winning those last 5 starts, then got hurt. Brock…..took the league by storm, winning 8 starts before he got hurt. Serious injuries, surgerys, time missed….

        And ill point out that this organization paid a hefty price to trade up for TL……you better believe this FO will see it through.
        TL might be a bust as you assume…..
        BP might be closer to Brees or Brady than JG when its all said and done.
        But no one knows right now……and Darnold is here as insurance.

  8. 49ers qb assessment- if we get decent play from the position we’re in the NFCCG at least………
    and if 1 of the 3 becomes ELITE………well, then we’re a dynasty again!
    A few weeks back i compared this team to a big time college program like Alabama.
    This past week proves my point. Many good players left, some stayed. We have our prized recruit in Hargrove. The qb position was treated like any other…..not content with standing pat with the 2 good ones we have…….we added another really talented guy to compete.

    Saying we are an elite qb away from being a dynasty might seem like a bold statement…..but this FO has proven to be one of the, if not the best in the league at roster construction. Larry Kruger had a great video on youtube the other day going into detail about it.

  9. off topic- O line…….specifically the panic im sensing from many about RT.

    I want to point out….last year we were panicking about 3 spots!!!!!!!! We had no clue who would play LG,C,RG !!!! Not only did the FO/CS ( front office/coaching staff) not panic, they did a great job filling those spots and actually improved the line. We could split hairs about weather it was improved……..but it sure didnt regress.
    When i discussed the line issue last offseason……i kept mentioning the 10 guys we had on the roster……and how only 3 had to step in and start.
    Well this year its the same, except we only have 1 spot to fill. Mckivitz is the front runner, but hes not the only option. He could end up being the swing tackle, backing up both spots,
    Burford is a candidate IMO. If he kicks out to RT……someone like Poe, or Zekelj would slide into RG. The fact is, we dont know what the FO/CS thinks about these players or what they have planned. We have no idea who is progressing well and who is being groomed for what position.
    The left side of the line is sealed off……aka the blind side. The right side is not as important because the qb can see em! And the guy the RT blocks….has the longest way to go to reach the qb.
    We’ll be fine. I dont see any RT being drafted outside of the top 20 picks thats gonna come in and beat out the vets we have on the roster now. It confuses me as to why ppl think we need to draft one with our first pick

  10. Not sure why many 49ers fans (not just on here) are hesitant on Lance. Sure, he hasn’t lived up to his draft position, YET.
    I hear some talk about how the 49ers basically blew this pick.

    Not sure how many people have seen any of Lance’s college highlights, but the kid was a ball’r. His upside was off the charts and what is amazing to me (no matter what division) is his 30-1 TD to Int ratio.
    We honestly don’t have any definitive and conclusive evidence just how good Lance can be with such a small sample size.

    I need to see more of Trey on the field before making a decision on whether the 49ers blew a pick on him. A few starts is not my barometer.

  11. I am pretty confident in the QB room as long as BP is able to go by Oct 1 I have no worries. Unlike J my only concern with the roster so far is the O line (OK and maybe K) the O line last year was highly inconsistent when it came to run blocking. Williams is a year older and misses games every year. Brunskill was the far better choice at RG. If McKivitz is the starter they have a huge need at swing T. In the second half of last season they couldn’t run right at all and that was with Brunskill and McGlinchey who was a decent run blocker. I think they will draft an OT with one of their 3rd round picks if they don’t package all three of them to move up. My one and only concern with our QBs is that the O line gets all 3 of them hurt and we are begging for another BP, a late round draft pick miracle or I guess Josh Johnson will be available.

    1. Old Coach, maybe this is the year they make the OL “bullet proof.” But I don’t know how’d they do it given what’s available, unless I’m underestimating people. It seems to me we only need two very good players, a right guard and a swing tackle. I’m assuming Burford is moved to right tackle and that he’ll do well there. Are two of Moore, Poe and Zakelj coming to the rescue? Of course there’s the draft, but from where they pick, they’re unlikely to find players to stand in right away. What do you think?

      1. Geo,
        I think they will keep Burford at G to switch him now would be like starting over. I believe they will start McKivitz at RT with Moore at swing T and the idea of those two scares the hell out of me. I pray that Foerster is as good as they say he is. I think Poe and Zakelj will be backups at G and C again not a lot of experience there. I bet you that even with Williams contract the 49ers have the cheapest O line in football. I think they will draft an OT but he will likely be a year away from playing. Like I said in my earlier post I think outside of the O line the 9ers have the best roster in football by a pretty good margin. I just hope the O line doesn’t ruin it.

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